Mental Match

Chapter 6: Birthday Wishes

Chapter 6 - Birthday Wishes

Hermione rushed through her lunch barely stopping to swallow her food. She chuckled to herself at the thought of what Ron would say if he saw her. Her second team meeting with Professor Sherrard this morning had gone on longer than she had planned and she was off her schedule. She still had some paper work to complete before her afternoon classes and she hated to be behind. She supposed it was just part of her Type A personality she chuckled again inwardly thinking of Ron and his ridiculous characterization. This is pathetic! Why does he always feature in my thoughts now?

Her first meeting with the Professor a week ago had gone on forever as he insisted in going over in detail all the areas that had been deemed unstable. Then the team had discussed, argued and agreed on the preferred restoration schedule finally settling on undertaking the most unstable sections first followed by the moving staircases near the great hall and then moving in a clockwise direction around the school until completion. They hoped that the project would be completed within six months before the following Easter break. Ron was a bit frustrated by the number of rooms that seem to change position weekly around the school and had yet to come up with a strategy for the staircases. What did surprise her was the complete faith the Professor showed in him and he seemed confident that Ron would come up with appropriate solutions to these challenges in a timely manner.

She finished her meal and hurried to her office. Ron was not at lunch today anyway as it appeared that the team worked throughout the day when the Professor was present. She may have lingered if he was here as she had grown accustomed to his company during her meals these days. There it was again! He was forever in her head it seemed.

The truth was she had gotten accustomed to his presence around her for the last week and she found herself looking forward to her daily evening meetings with him and sharing her mealtimes with him. She now eagerly anticipated the fresh bath scent invading her room in the evening as he entered wearing his friendly smile. Their meetings were never long now as he always was in a rush to eat and then retire to the library to either continue his research or just read. She actually joined him in the library a couple of days and they silently sat together contented among the books around them. His love of reading touched something in her that she never expected. She had always been told that she was a bit of a freak, that she was different because of her obsession with books but to see another person who seemingly shared her obsession but still could be a normal prat otherwise somehow made her feel better about herself. It was a bit ironic that someone who was so different from her could make her believe she was normal.

Her afternoon classes passed by and soon she was back in her office. When the knock came to her door she was however surprised as it was a bit early for him especially as he was with the Professor today. Her sudden expectation was dashed as Dickinson pushed his head around the door and gave her a wave.

"Erm...can I speak to you for a second Hermione?" he enquired from the open doorway.

They had not spoken to each other since that time in the staff dining room and she had not forgotten his snide remarks. She tried to sound calm as she automatically adjusted her feelings.

"Sure. Come in and have a seat." she invited.

"Thanks. I won't be long." he said as he settled in a chair. He looked a bit uncomfortable with himself and she felt a tinge of delight in this.

"Look Hermione I know we haven't had the opportunity to talk since we had our last...discussion." he began slowly. "but I just wanted to apologize to you for the way I behaved. It was really unforgivable the manner in which I carried on. I was just concerned about you please believe me."

Even though she still resented the things he had intimated, she had no real reason not to forgive him if he was sincere.

"It's not only me you should apologize to Dickinson. You were very rude to Mr. Weasley also. He has not done anything to deserve any unkind words from you." she reminded him with a slight glare.

"I am aware of that and again I am sincerely sorry for my manner with him and you. I was just a bit jealous you might say Hermione. I really wanted to get to know you again and I maybe I over reacted to Mr. Weasley's presence. Will you forgive me?" he asked.

Hermione suddenly felt a bit guilty about his admission. She may have contributed to the situation by brushing him off too readily before. She did not however want anything to start again with Dickinson or anyone at this time and she felt it necessary to try and put it straight out in the open.

"I do forgive you Dickinson and I am also sorry for not giving you my full attention since I arrived but things have been busy. I want to make it clear however that even though we do have a history together I am really not looking for anything other than a friendship with you...or anyone else. Mr. Weasley and I are working together on the school restoration project and that's all, so I would really appreciate it if there were no more silly outbursts in the future." she stated in a steady tone.

He stared for a few seconds at her and it appeared that he was not satisfied with her statement as a slight frown formed on his face as he leaned forward with both hands gripping the chair tightly. He then seemed to collect himself and visibly relaxed with a small smile now on his face.

"I'm truly sorry you feel this way Hermione. I was hoping otherwise but I accept your decision for now. I do hope we can remain good friends until otherwise." he said as he stood up to leave. "Well I will leave you to your work. Good evening Hermione." and he was out of her office before she could reply.

As she pondered his last remarks, she felt her earlier light mood leaving right behind her former...what was he anyway?

The wonderful clean smell she now knew so well drifted in and suddenly brought her out of her thoughts. Ron.

"So old Dickwood came to charm you with his starchy manner did he? You look absolutely cheerful." he laughed as he noisily threw himself into a chair as usual. Her mood came back through the door.

"Will you stop calling him that! You are just as bad with your insults Ron." she admonished. "He just came to apologize for his behaviour the other evening."

"Please tell me you did not forgive him." he begged with a frown. "Wait! on second though don't tell me, I'll only get depressed. I would rather assume you shouted at him like last time and he put you in the bad mood that I found you in." he grinned as he swiveled around in his chair.

"Alright I won't tell you but my mood has definitely picked up." she smiled at him with her face a bit flushed. "So how was your day?" she asked in an effort to divert him away from her pink face.

"Long. We actually got through a lot today. Still to start on those staircases. Who the hell came up with that you think...and rotating rooms! I'm going to have to mark all the stairs and rooms up there so we know what we've completed or not. Not looking forward to it." he moaned

She was about to warn him for his language when he sat up straight and turned to her with his serious face.

"Hermione... I have to leave for a few days, a week tops. The professor wants me to help him on another site and since we are a bit ahead of schedule here I couldn't say no. I know it looks bad seeing that we only just started but Richard and John will still continue until I return. If you have any questions you can pass it by them. Is that ok?" he asked as if she had to grant him permission. Her mood sank a bit again.

"Ron you don't have to get approval from me to leave. This is more your project than mine so if you and the Professor feel sure about it then it's fine. I will inform the Headmistress and wait until you get back." she informed him. She however wasn't too sure if it was fine with her. The prospect of long aimless days loomed ahead of her and she suddenly felt an emptiness inside her. She looked at him and tried to sound unaffected by his news.

"Have you eaten already? We can go right away if you want?" she shot him a smile.

He hesitated for a second before he answered.

"I'll get something at the Three Broomsticks. I have to pack up as we leave early in the morning. I wish I didn't have to rush but I promise when I get back we'll do something ok?" he looked expectantly at her for the second time.

She wasn't too sure what he meant by "doing something" but she let it pass. She also knew that he was staying at the Three Broomsticks in a room upstairs and probably wanted to get a good nights' sleep before leaving.

"Sure. It's ok Ron. Take care wherever you are going. I'll see you when you get back." she said softly.

"You really sound like my mother sometimes but I would never say that in front of you." he chuckled. "Thanks anyway. I'll see you soon." he smiled at her before quickly turning and moving out the door.


She sat by her desk in her room looking out the window at the empty field below. Something was missing.

Today was a special day for her. Today she was another year older and she felt it. As she glanced at the presents and card from her parents she couldn't help but reflect on the past 23 years of her life, especially the last twelve. She had gone through seven years at this school, one year on the run with Harry, a full scale war, four years working in the Ministry and now a teacher at the most famous school in the Wizard world. A full life by all standards so why did she feel unaccomplished and a bit lost.

The last week had not helped and probably contributed to her current state. While she was kept busy with her assistant headmistress duties and her classes, she felt a deep void at all other times. She refused to accept what her head kept telling her. She missed him! Simple as that. She couldn't even enjoy her reading as much. How had this happened? She barely had been with him for all of two weeks and yet he had managed to fill that void which now showed itself, large and horrible. She had to get back on track and get back her life she told herself. This could not do.

She was suddenly startled by a soft knock on her door.

"Ron?" she asked without thinking as her heartbeat picked up. Damn! What did she just tell herself.

A familiar voice chuckled on the other side.

"Haven't seen me in a few weeks and you forget my name already?"

Hermione squeaked out and rushed to open the door with a huge smile on her face.

"Harry! oh gosh it's great to see you!" she gushed as she grabbed him in a big hug.

"Woah! It's good to see you too. You're crushing me Hermione." he laughed out as she released him and pulled him inside. He settled and smiled at her.

"Happy Birthday Hermione! I had to come and see you today, I know I've been neglectful as a friend. Here this is for you." he told her as he handed over a wrapped gift. She quickly unwrapped it to find a beautiful fine silk scarf.

"Thanks Harry. It really is great to see you. You look good." she smiled at him.

"I'm ok as could be and how are you? This room is great! Almost as big as my flat." he joked.

"It's been great here. I am really glad I took up Professor McGonagall's offer. I love teaching and I am so honoured to contribute to this school." she told him. "Please have a seat on the couch. Have you eaten yet? We can go up to the staff dining and get something."

"Sorry Hermione. I have to leave in a while. I just ran away to see you today. They are expecting me back soon." he apologized sincerely. He then looked at her knowingly.

"So...who is this Ron? Should I be worried?" he chuckled.

"Funny Harry. Ha ha." she laughed but still couldn't stop her ears and face from heating up. "He's just one of the members working on the restoration team for Hogwarts, remember I told you about the special project I'm also working on?" she said nonchalantly.

Harry stared at her again before smiling.

"Right...and he normally comes up here to inspect your room for cracks at this hour and you thought it was him." he laughed out loud. "Come on Hermione, I know you better than that. Spill it."

"It's not like that Harry honestly. I hardly know him. We just have been spending a lot of time together on this project and...and...I like him that's all. He's nice and he makes me laugh. He's...different though Harry I should tell you. He's a...squib...but he's so different from anyone I've ever met. He's an engineer working with the team. When we have more time I'll tell you the whole story I promise." she stalled.

"Wow! A squib! That a first for us isn't it?" he said sounding genuinely surprised. He studied her face as she sat next to him. "Most of the squibs I have heard about tend to be on the reclusive side if you know what I mean but hey, if he's fine with you then it's ok with me." he nodded to her.

"Thanks but he's just a new friend Harry. You know me, I do not have time for anything else so for now we just work together." she said a bit unconvincingly.

"I would still like to meet him just to satisfy myself. I plan to come back to see the first Quidditch game of the term, maybe I could meet him then." he half asked as he stood up to leave.

"I can make decisions on my own Harry but yes you can meet him then. Come on. I'll walk you out." she

said hurriedly to get him off track.

They walked slowly back down to the entrance to the school where she gave him a last hug and kiss on the cheek before saying goodbye. He had raised her spirits slightly with his visit and she walked back to her room feeling better about herself than before.

As she reached the first staircase up to her room she heard her name being shouted and footsteps hurrying down the darkening corridor. She stopped and peered through the forming shadows.

"Harry? Did you forget something?" she called out.

She then heard another familiar voice ring out as an unruly head of red hair appeared in the light.

"What?...Harry?...no it's me I'm afraid to say."

For the second time in the last hour a large grin formed on her face.

"Ron! What are you doing here? Gosh you surprised me!" she laughed out.

He reached her at the foot of the steps and she fought against the sudden urge to fling herself at him and hug him. She held on to the railing with a tight grip instead. He was dressed in one of his fitted polo shirts under his open jacket and he looked wonderful. Her day was definitely getting better.

"Hey." he greeted her a bit hesitantly. "I'm glad I found you as I wasn't sure you would be here. Are you going out with Harry for your birthday by any chance?" he asked. She quickly realised his assumption with her calling Harry's name earlier.

"No. Harry was just here. You missed him by a few minutes. He just popped in to see me for a short while but he had to leave. I'm sorry you didn't get to meet him." she explained.

"Yeah me too." he replied as he raised his hand to give her something. "Happy Birthday Hermione. It's just a token. I hope you like it." he said shyly.

Hermione was taken aback. She surely did not expect him to know her birthday and she surely didn't expect him to get a gift for her.

"You shouldn't have Ron. I didn't expect anything from you." she told him honestly.

"Hey birthdays are a big thing in our family and I knew yours was today and well...just open the darn thing will you." he sighed loudly.

She laughed as she unwrapped his gift. It was a book entitled "Notable Muggle Born Witches and Wizards and their contribution to the Magical World- revised edition 2002."

"It's a pre published issue. The Professor knows the author and I asked him for a copy. You are in there Hermione...your story. That's why I got it for you. You can have a nice laugh when you read it." he grinned.

Now she couldn't help herself. She threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly resting her head on his shoulder for a brief moment. He froze as she held him. When she regained her senses she pulled away flustered.

"Thank you Ron. You keep surprising me I have to say again. I love it. Thanks again." she gushed.

He looked pleased by her admission as his ears also appeared red in the dying light.

"Hey have you eaten as yet? he asked.

"I knew you couldn't resist the thought of food." she laughed. "Come on, we can still get something at the dining hall."

"No. that's not what I meant. It's your birthday Hermione. What I mean is...I would like to get you something to eat...but not here. I know we haven't had time to talk properly for a while so why don't I buy you dinner at the Three Broomsticks and you can ask me anything you want. It's the second part of my birthday gift to you." he stated.

Now her head was spinning. Relax Hermione. It's just a meal at the local pub, not dinner by candlelight under the stars. Get a grip!

"Yeah...sure. That will be nice." she stuttered. "Give me a moment. I'll just take this book up and freshen up quickly. I'll meet you at the gate in ten minutes ok."

He smiled brightly. "Take your time. I'll be waiting." he said before turning to head down the corridor.

Hermione waited until he was out of sight before darting up the stairs like a Deatheater was behind her. She burst into her room and headed straight for the bathroom. Calm down. Calm down she told herself as she bustled around the room putting on the slightest hint of makeup, trying to get her hair in order and looking for a pretty blouse and jumper all at the same time. She actually managed all three tasks in under 15 minutes as she rushed down the stairs to the entrance, skidding to a stop just before she arrived and trying to look calm.

They walked down to the pub as they chatted away freely. He apologized for his late return as he had stopped in at his sister and at his parents on the way back. She tried to update him as to what transpired during the week at school he was away. Soon they were seated at a cosy table in the pub ordering butter beer and a meal for themselves. Hermione felt relaxed as ever and couldn't remember another time when she actually enjoyed herself in the company of just one other person who was not Harry.

When their beers arrived, Ron held up his glass and looked at her.

"Happy Birthday Hermione Granger. May the coming year be an unforgettable one...in a good way obviously." he laughed as they clinked glassed together.

"Thank you Ron Weasley for a wonderful evening." she replied with a smile. "Can I ask what is your whole name by the way?" she asked with a smirk.

"Hold on. Are you starting already? I know I said you can ask me anything but there are rules you know." he admitted. "And being the fair and just witch you are, I am sure you would agree that this should be a two way thing. I should be able to ask you as well don't you think?" he raised his eyebrows as he grinned back.

"You tricked me! All under the pretense of a birthday gift. I should have know." she retorted as she playfully glared at him. "What are these rules pray tell." she then asked.

"Don't worry. There aren't many. First we agree on the number of questions we can each ask. I suggest ten as a good even number. Then we agree as to how long the game can continue and again I suggest a period of two months. Yes it can take that long believe me. The other rules are simple. You have to answer truthfully in short or long form it's your pick, you get one pass but be careful when you use it because once it is used you have to answer all the other questions. Oh. there is one exception to the questions you can ask. You cannot ask any personal sexual questions. That rule is to primarily protect the females playing the game and really should only be asked by...you know...established couples." he took a deep breath. "Understood?"

She was not too sure if it was the butter beer or just her relaxed mood but it all sounded reasonable to her.

"What exactly constitutes a personal sexual question? and why does it only protect girls?" she enquired mischievously.

He studied her over his drink. Did he guess that she was deliberately goading him on?

"You know. Things like when did you last have sex or what is your favourite position?... Get it now?" he smirked back at her.

She spluttered and coughed over her drink, her eyes watering as she nodded silently. He laughed as he continued.

"And let's face it. Men don't really give a damn about keeping their sex life a secret. They will blurt out any answer you ask them. That's why that rule is for the women. Now do you agree to these rules or not." he asked.

She had to admit she was intrigued. Any question she wanted. She looked at him and smiled.

"Fine. Who goes first?" she inquired.

Before he could answer their meals arrived at the table. As they both began to eat, Ron gestured with his free hand.

"You go first. Does your question about my name still hold?" he asked between bites.

"Yeah I guess." she could not truthfully think of any other question to ask. Her mind had inconveniently switched off.

"It's Ronald Bilius Weasley." he cringed. "And don't you dare laugh. He was my favourite uncle."

She still giggled at him through her food. Honestly! When was the last time she giggled!

"OK Fire away Mr. Ronald Bilius Weasley. Ask me something." she bravely stated.

He studied her for a while as he chewed his food.

"How do you feel about me?" he suddenly asked.

Her eyes widened as she choked on her food. Her heart did a somersault.

"How...how do I feel about you?" she repeated.

He sighed loudly. "Hermione, you are lousy at this game aren't you. Not only did you not answer my question but you almost repeated my question. No imagination. Now again...How do you feel about me...as a squib I mean?" he asked.

As a squib? Her heart settled back in her chest as she sucked in much needed air into her lungs. Did he do that deliberately?

"Erm...sorry...I was just thinking about the answer that's all." she glared. She inwardly made a note to ask herself the same question that had almost thrown her into a small turmoil. How did she really feel about him? For now she could be honest and answer his real question.

"Well at first I was a bit shocked but who wouldn't be. I have never known a squib before so I was a little nervous but having already met you...before you told me...I guess it didn't really matter. I think you are a bright, dedicated, funny, normal caring person who also happens to be slightly impetuous and rude with atrocious table manners." she grinned before pausing to look at him. "I know you have been subject to a lot of unwarranted prejudice but to me...I guess...I just see you as a wizard without the wand." she finished. She hoped he understood her point.

He tilted his head upwards as if studying her answer closely.

"A wizard without the wand..." he said quietly to himself. "That's brilliant Hermione! Thank you for that assessment. I guess I never thought of myself like that. Now it's your turn." he sounded pleased.

"Do you have a girlfriend?" she blurted out, her face turning a shade of pink as she finished her last bit of dinner.

He looked a little surprised at first but suddenly let out a sudden laugh at her. "You learn fast don't you? That's a much better question." he grinned

"I'm a squib Hermione. First and foremost. What are the chances of a witch having me as a boyfriend you think? Pretty much never I would say. With regards to muggle women...it becomes very complicated after a while trust me. It's not like you can bring them home and announce to her that your family is made up of magical people can you. I have had a few...flings while at school and University but never something serious for the stated reasons. But to answer your question...No...I do not having a girlfriend. I have my work and that keeps me going for now." he ended as he watched her closely from his side of the table.

She looked down at her hands nervously as he continued to stare. His eyes could cut through her she swore. She wanted to let him know that things could be different with...Don't go there Hermione!

She lifted her head and looked at him finally before speaking. "I think that once you find the right person...muggle or magical or in between...It shouldn't matter what or who you are. Once you truly understand and care for each other and really know that you are better with that person, then the love for one another is all that should matter. Don't you think so?" she asked softly.

He appeared to nod his head slightly in agreement but she couldn't be sure.

"I wish it was that simple Hermione but sometimes things are not so black and white in the real world. There are always other factors to consider. I applaud your belief that love should conquer all but forgive me for being a skeptic. I hope you can prove me wrong someday." he answered her just as softly.

She looked directly at his blue eyes and felt new strength in her nerves.

"I hope I can do that one day Ronald. I really do." she told him flatly before breaking out in a smile.

She wanted this night to continue on forever but she had already said too much. It was time to put some of her space in front of this wonderful red haired man who was now smiling back at her with that friendly grin that had made this day one of her best birthdays ever.

"Come on." she suddenly said. "It's getting late and I need some sleep. We have lots of time for this game to continue not so?" she laughed at him.

As they stood she turned to him. "Thanks for a wonderful birthday Ron. I am really glad you came back when you did. This was exactly what I needed today." she said lightly.

He stopped to look at her as he adjusted his jacket over his tall frame.

"I'm glad you had a good time. Believe me, it was absolutely my pleasure...and yes we are definitely continuing this game." he smirked.

They headed out the door after settling the bill. The night had gotten colder since they arrived and they hustled along the narrow roadway back to the school, their bodies a little closer together than before.

XXX

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